Downsizing sets sail to nowhere

I spent my mostly annual tradition of going to the theater on Christmas Day to watch Downsizing, but only because my first choice was sold out. I should have gone home and waited for another day. I’m a fan of Alexander Payne (Sideways and The Descendants are two of my favorites), but this one really misfired. I had to fight to stay awake through a slow, plodding story that ultimately ended up going nowhere.

The premise was interesting enough. Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) lives with the pressure to meet others’ expectations and he appears to be caught in an endless cycle of caring for everyone but himself. His decision to be downsized as a means of having the life he wanted not only for himself, but also to provide for his wife, Audrey (Kristen Wiig), sets up what could have been an interesting narrative on “the grass is always greener” adage. In fact, there is a moment in the film with a sign proclaiming “The grass IS greener” that led me to think it would go that direction. But alas, it never did.

Even the special effects depicting the “downsized” among the normal sized population seemed lacking. My first thought was 70s era effects one might find in Land of the Giants (Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but given the available technology today, the special effects bar is pretty high. I should be left in awe as to how real an effect looks, not distracted by an obvious green screen effect).

Downsizing ends up taking an otherwise interesting cast, Damon and Wiig, as well as Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau, and very brief appearances by Jason Sudeikis and James Van Der Beek, and sets them adrift on a flotilla of events that lead from one to the next with no real destination in sight.

I’ll keep an eye out for Payne’s next project because of his track record with previous films, but Downsizing will make me a little cautious before I commit to his next one.

I give Downsizing 1 1/2 out of 4 stars.

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